Community Profile- Rachel Mc Crum

Heritage Lower Saint Lawrence (HLSL) is working hard to expand its outreach towards the west. Rachel McCrum is one of the newest members of  HLSL. Rachel is a poet, performer, editor, and curator. Originally from Northern Ireland, she lived in Edinburgh, Scotland between 2010 and 2016, where she was the first BBC Scotland Poet in Residence and recipient of a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship. She moved to Montreal in 2017, and to Cacouna in 2023. Her debut collection The First Blast to Awaken Women Degenerate was translated by Jonathan Lamy and published in a bilingual edition with Mémoire d’encrier in Fall 2020, and was a finalist for the Le Prix de traduction de la Fondation Cole from the Quebec Writers’ Federation in 2022. She is currently working on a project on the identity of the stepmother. Rachel is the vocalist for noise-poetry group Pigs&Wolves.  

And now some questions for this newcomer  Proust – HLSL questionnaire!

Did you know about poutine before you arrived? Best place to get it if you do know?

I moved to Montreal from Edinburgh, Scotland, where chips, cheese and sauce is the time honoured messy laden post-pub snack – different textures (thick chips – fries, for translation, but really, CHIPS, runny gravy, melty cheese) so I was no stranger to the delights of the perfect carb-dairy-salt combo. I knew I’d really moved over when I started craving squeaky cheese and skinny chips. I have to say that discovering the wonders of Fromagerie des Basques in Trois Pistoles has completely changed the playing field. The simultaneous lightness and heft of their cheese has to be believed. It’s perfect. You don’t want to get too fancy, you know.  Just let it be its own triad of perfection. Chips, cheese, sauce. Maybe a bit of steak haché if you’re feeling flirty. I feel like I’m really talking too much about poutine here.

What is your favourite place in Lower St Lawrence, and why?

Other than the Fromagerie des Basques? Our gorgeous new yellow house and terrain between Cacouna and L’Isle Verte, which we stumbled upon in May, and finalised the sale in July, after a few years of dreaming of finding somewhere out of Montreal, near the river, large enough to set up residencies for writers. We’re still somewhat unbelieving that this has happened, but it’s wonderful. We’re very close to Kiskotuk Parc, which is a dream of forest trails on huge rocks amidst the spruce, pine and fir, and run by a lovely gang. Watch for writer residencies opening in 2024…

Your favourite pastime?

Right now, and this is very much coloured by the summer that has been, I’m having a huge amount of fun scything, lopping, chopping and otherwise digging up the terrain at the house in Cacouna. We’re overrun with catherinettes [tiny woodland raspberries]. I don’t quite know what I’m doing – although my Northern Irish mother and grandmother are excellent gardeners, as is my Quebecois father-in-law (all of them ex-farming stock) – so there is support. It’s satisfying and strange and refreshing. How to cultivate and clear in the hope of encouraging new growth (beyond raspberries).

In Montreal, I’d say rehearsing with Pigs&Wolves. It’s the one thing that spending weeks between Cacouna and Montreal has made difficult, and I miss the weekly two-hour sessions of arsing about noisily with voice and guitar and bass and drums in a basement studio in Hochelaga. We’re trying to make up for lost time, but it’s tricky to find the balance.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I had a very beautiful moment the other night, shivering on the deck with a cigarette and a half-drunk glass of red wine, while there was the activity of family and friends pottering in the warmth and light of the kitchen behind me. That made me very happy. It’s been a bleak year for the world. So much grief. This – warmth, light, shared food, laughter – was something made of joy.

What talent would you most like to have?

To be able to dance the Argentine Tango with sensuality, fire, and grace. I am no natural dancer. It would be so cool.

Biggest regret?

Ah, regret is no place to live. Anyone who moves from a homeplace – which I’ve done a few times, in my impulsive twenties and thirties – is susceptible to regrets at what has been left, and it takes some effort and deep breaths not to let that become the overlaying sentiment. You have to embrace the place where your feet have ended up, while holding other memories with tenderness. And try not to hurt anyone along the way.

What is your motto?  Head down, no nonsense, let’s boogie.

Photo credit: Cassandra Cacheiro